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Rogers v. Executive Office for United States Attorneys

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 9, 2019

JON R. ROGERS, Plaintiff,


          REGGIE B. WALTON United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Jon R. Rogers, brings this civil action against the defendant, the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (“EOUSA”), for its alleged failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2018), and the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, and for its alleged common law breach of contract. Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶ 1. Currently pending before the Court are the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment (“Def.'s Mot.”) and the Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Document #6) (“Pl.'s Cross-Mot.”). Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [1] the Court concludes for the following reasons that it must grant the defendant's motion to dismiss and for summary judgment and deny the plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         “In the 1990[]s and 2000[]s, [the] [p]laintiff was the target of at least two federal criminal investigations, ” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 1; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 1, but “was never charged with a[] crime, ” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 2; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 2. According to the plaintiff, “[d]uring [the] second investigation, the government seized many of [the plaintiff's] assets, and it filed four civil forfeiture actions [(the “civil forfeiture actions”)] ¶ 2003 and 2004.” Compl. ¶ 9. On August 1, 2012, the “[p]laintiff entered into a [s]ettlement [a]greement [(the ‘Settlement Agreement')] with the [Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”)], in order to obtain the return of a large sum of assets that the government had seized and refused to return.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 3; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 3.

         The Settlement Agreement “resulted in the dismissal of [the] civil forfeiture actions.” Def.'s Facts ¶ 2. In relevant part, the Settlement Agreement states:

Jon R. Rogers, his assigns, and heirs, hereby unconditionally release and forever discharge the United States . . . from and against any and all manner of claims, actions, causes of action, rights, set-offs, promises, allegations, expenses, assessments, penalties, charges, injuries, losses, costs, obligations, duties, suits, proceedings, debts, dues, contracts, judgments, damages, claims, counterclaims, liabilities and/or demands of every kind, character and manner whatsoever in law or equity, administrative or judicial, contract, tort (including negligence of all kinds) or otherwise, whether known or unknown, claimed or unclaimed, asserted or unasserted, suspected or unsuspected, discovered or undiscovered, choate or inchoate, accrued or unaccrued, anticipated or unanticipated, contingent or fixed, for, upon, or by reason of any and all matters whatsoever, related to and/or in connection with or arising out of these Forfeiture Actions.

Def.'s Mot., Exhibit (“Ex.”) 1 (Settlement Agreement) ¶ 9.

         “On November 29, 2012, [the] [p]laintiff submitted a . . . []FOIA[] request to several agencies, including [the defendant] and the IRS, ” seeking documents related to the civil forfeiture actions. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 4, 5; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 4. According to the plaintiffs, in April 2013, the “[d]efendant required payment of $548 from [the] [p]laintiff (which [the] [p]laintiff paid), upon receipt of which [the] [d]efendant stated that ‘documents will be released to you.'” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 5. After failing to respond to repeated requests by the plaintiff for an update regarding the processing of the plaintiff's FOIA request, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 6, “[i]n September 2016, [the] [d]efendant denied [the] [p]laintiff's FOIA request, relying on the terms of the [ ] Settlement Agreement, ” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 7; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 7. In 2016, the plaintiff appealed the defendant's denial of his FOIA request to the United States Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy (“OIP”), which “granted [the] [p]laintiff's administrative appeal[] and promised that [the defendant] ‘w[ould] send' [the] [p]laintiff documents.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 8; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 8. The “[d]efendant then made subsequent assurances that it would produce documents” to the plaintiff.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 9; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 9. However, the “[d]efendant has not produced . . . [any] document[s] to [the] [p]laintiff, ” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 10; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 10. On February 26, 2018, the plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court, seeking to compel the production of the documents that he requested.[2] Compl. at 1. In response, the defendant filed its motion for summary judgment in its favor on the plaintiff's FOIA and Privacy Act claims and to dismiss the plaintiff's breach of contract claim, see Def.'s Mot. at 1, and the plaintiff then filed his cross-motion for summary judgment, see Pl.'s Cross-Mot. at 1. These motions are the subject of this Memorandum Opinion.


         A. Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss

         “Federal [district] courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, ” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994), and “[a] motion for dismissal under [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 12(b)(1) ‘presents a threshold challenge to the [C]ourt's jurisdiction, '” Morrow v. United States, 723 F.Supp.2d 71, 75 (D.D.C. 2010) (Walton, J.) (quoting Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987)). Thus, the Court is obligated to dismiss a claim if it “lack[s] . . . subject-matter jurisdiction.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Because “[i]t is to be presumed that a cause lies outside [a federal court's] limited jurisdiction, ” Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction, see Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court “need not limit itself to the allegations of the complaint.” Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 14 (D.D.C. 2001). Rather, the “[C]ourt may consider such materials outside the pleadings as it deems appropriate to resolve the questions [of] whether it has jurisdiction [over] the case.” Scolaro v. D.C. Bd. of Elections & Ethics, 104 F.Supp.2d 18, 22 (D.D.C. 2000); see Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). Additionally, the Court must “assume the truth of all material factual allegations in the complaint and ‘construe the complaint liberally, granting [the] plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp., 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Thomas v. Principi, 394 F.3d 970, 972 (D.C. Cir. 2005)). However, “the [p]laintiff's factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim.” Grand Lodge, 185 F.Supp.2d at 13-14 (alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

         A complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the [C]ourt to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (noting that the plaintiff is entitled to “the benefits of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged”). Although the Court must accept the facts pleaded as true, legal allegations devoid of factual support are not entitled to this presumption. See, e.g., Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276. Along with the allegations made within the four corners of the complaint, the Court may also consider “any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [it] may take judicial notice.” EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

         C. Rule 56 Motion for Summary Judgment

         The Court must “grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)). The Court must therefore draw “all justifiable inferences” in the non-moving party's favor and accept the non-moving party's evidence as true. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The non-moving party, however, cannot rely on “mere allegations or denials.” Burke v. Gould, 286 F.3d 513, 517 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). Thus, “[c]onclusory allegations unsupported by factual data will not create a triable issue of fact.” Pub. Citizen Health Research Grp. v. FDA, 185 F.3d 898, 908 (D.C Cir. 1999) (Garland, J., concurring) (alteration in original) (quoting Exxon Corp. v. FTC, 663 F.2d 120, 126-27 (D.C. Cir. 1980)). If the Court concludes that “the non[-]moving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of [its] case with respect to which [it] has the burden of proof, ” then the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). At bottom, “in ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, the [C]ourt shall grant summary judgment only if one of the moving parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law upon material facts that are not genuinely disputed.” Shays v. FEC, 424 F.Supp.2d 100, 109 (D.D.C. 2006).

         “FOIA cases typically are resolved on a motion for summary judgment.” Ortiz v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 67 F.Supp.3d 109, 116 (D.D.C. 2014); see also Defs. of Wildlife v. U.S. Border Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 2009). “[The] FOIA requires federal agencies to disclose, upon request, broad classes of agency records unless the records are covered by the statute's exemptions.” Students Against Genocide v. U.S. Dep't of State, 257 F.3d 828, 833 (D.C. Cir. 2001). In a FOIA action, the defendant agency has “[the] burden of demonstrating that the withheld documents are exempt from disclosure.” Boyd v. Crim. Div. of U.S. Dep't of Justice, 475 F.3d 381, 385 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The Court will grant summary judgment to the government in a FOIA case only if the agency can prove “that it has fully discharged its obligations under the FOIA, after the underlying facts and the inferences to be drawn from them are construed in the light most favorable to the FOIA requester.” Friends of Blackwater v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 391 F.Supp.2d 115, 119 (D.D.C. 2005) (quoting Greenberg v. U.S. Dep't of Treasury, 10 F.Supp.2d 3, 11 (D.D.C. 1988)). Thus, in a lawsuit brought to compel the production of documents under the FOIA, “an agency is entitled to summary judgment if no material facts are in dispute and if it demonstrates ‘that each document that falls within the class requested has either been produced . . . or is wholly[, or partially, ] exempt from [disclosure].'” Students Against Genocide, 257 F.3d at 833 (first alteration in original) (quoting Goland v. CIA, 607 F.2d 339, 352 (D.C. Cir. 1978)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The plaintiff asserts three causes of action in his Complaint: (1) violation of the FOIA, see Compl. ¶¶ 38-41; (2) violation of the Privacy Act, see id. ¶¶ 42-45; and (3) common law breach of contract, see id. ¶¶ 46-54. The defendant moves to dismiss the plaintiff's breach of contract claim and for summary judgment in its favor on the plaintiff's FOIA and Privacy Act claims. See Def.'s Mem. at 1. The plaintiff opposes the defendant's motion to dismiss his breach of contract claim and cross-moves for summary judgment in his favor on his FOIA and Privacy Act claims. See Pl.'s Mem. at 2. The Court will address each of the parties' motions in turn.

         A. The Defendant's ...

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